I walk slowly, each step sinking a little into the ground. With every footfall, a puff of ash curls upward, dusting the top of my boot and disappearing into the soft stillness of the day. It is a clear day with no clouds, but the air around me has a gentle haze, a film that sometimes resolves into particles, pinpoints of ash in a slanting ray of sunlight. It has been two months since the fire, but the rising ash and the smell of smoke are strong, stinging the back of my throat and settling into a familiar ache in my temples.
From my row house mailbox, I fished
an envelope: no address, just “David.”
scrawled. In my room, I read: e-mails
bounced back,calls orphaned. If you’re alive and don’twant to talk I get it.
Though six hours acrossthe Atlantic is much farther than six along it. If need be, I will kneel before your grave. here’s my number. just in case.
As the parakeet-green municipal bus pulled into Cuddalore, Sai held his sign up as high as he could, his forehead burning from the morning sun. He did not want the reporter to miss him.
The sign was flimsy, made of two pieces of printer paper taped together, but it was sufficient.
He’d written SARA, THE NEW YORK TIMES in thick capital letters with a black marker. He knew of only a handful of women doing serious journalism, mostly Barkha Dutt copycats. His favorite female journalist was actually a character from the movie Gandhi. He had rented it when he was in college in Chennai and watched it alone. He was instantly smitten with the actress who played the Time magazine photographer from America, charmed by the way her short, wavy hair bounced as she squatted to the ground to take pictures of the Mahatma spinning cotton on his chakkaram.
I will make this short but not sweet, unlike the chocolate delicacy at the center of this blunder:
Whoever is eating cookies in The Loomery, cease. Did you not see the signs in the hall outside? Did you not read the pamphlets on initiation day? Surely not, because you would’ve noticed they read in large Impact font: DO NOT EAT INSIDE THE LOOMERY.
I ask my sons what they want from St. Hieronymos, too old to befriend. Red hat, my dead son says. Fat book, my live son requests. No one mentions a lion, meandered in.
The lion asks for an edit= do these sons mark jars filled with body parts? Baboon son, jackal son? They flatten to black-rimmed eyes. No.
I climb through mountain sons. They are finding how far blue takes them. They are learning the ropy muscles of a man (higher animus/ they r anonymous) becalmed in a cave mouth. His red hat and book, the little fire.
We pass a lighthouse and you tell me the legend—
a seer, an emperor, his daughter, the snakebite;
the tower he built to keep her at the edge of the sea—
when an old woman passes us on the ferry,
sniffs us twice, You are in love, I smelled it!
and last night on the island, over fresh fish
and a pitcher of ice-cloudy raki, I asked how
many words for love in your language: